Antarctica’s Frozen Lake Vostok, Isolated for 20 Million Years, Breached By Russian Drills

The location of Lake Vostok within Antarctica NASA

The Russian scientists drilling into ancient buried Antarctic Lake Vostok have reached their destination, the Russian news agency Ria Novosti reported today. The team is apparently alive and well despite a week of suspicious radio silence, but more details are to come about what they’ve found buried under two miles of ice.

“Yesterday, our scientists stopped drilling at the depth of 3,768 meters and reached the surface of the sub-glacial lake,” the source reportedly said in a story posted Monday, Feb. 6.

If true, this is a feat several decades in the making. Russian scientists have been attempting to drill into Antarctic ice since the 1970s, and they discovered Lake Vostok in 1996. In 1998, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, which protects the frozen continent, forced them to stop drilling until environmental concerns could be addressed. They started up again last winter (the austral summer) but had to cut and run just 30 meters from the lake source, as the Antarctic winter bore down.

Last week we thought that might happen again — if anyone could even hail the scientists — because conditions are getting worse, but no one heard from the team in several days. Then on Monday, the Russian news agency announced the team’s success.

Lake Vostok has been buried for 14 million years and contains high oxygen and nitrogen levels, which could cause the lake water to fizz like a shaken soda can when breached. But scientists want to reach it because it could hold weird forms of life that survive in deep cold and with no sun, which could have implications for alien life on Europa, Enceladus or other icy celestial bodies.

[via Slashdot]